Someone I have known for over twenty years came through my town the other day. Since she hadn't done the Santa Fe thing before, I did the tour guide bit and showed her around town, pointing out some of the neat places I have discovered in my time here. Because I share two spiritual trips with her, Rama's and the one that preceded it for both of us, I was looking forward to talking with her, and I wasn't disappointed. I live for good conversations, and we had some great ones. We talked over coffee at outdoor cafés, over lunches at five-star restaurants, over art at my favorite galleries, over fine silk dresses at the kinds of shops that make Santa Fe such a shopping disaster if you are not financially prepared for it. We talked about life, about folks we knew and what they are up to these days, about what we were up to these days, and of course about Rama. It was a wonderful visit.
But there was one moment I found a little unsettling. It was just a slightly off moment in a long stream of finer moments, so I didn't pay much attention to it at the time. But this morning, as I sat with my coffee on the patio, tossing lettuce to my rabbit buddy don Genaro, a song came on my stereo, and my eyes filled with tears as I remembered and cherished the moment it reminds me of. Sitting there in the sun, leaking tears onto my T-shirt, the off moment with my friend came back to me, and I realized what I should have said at the time. Since I didn't say it then, I will say it now, even though she will probably never read this.
We were talking, although we never defined it that way, about the things that have turned us on the most lately, the moments that have most excited us and shifted us to a higher state of attention. Because the experience was still fresh in my mind, I talked about one of the best such moments, which was at the wedding party of two friends who also studied for many years with Rama. I sat there raving on about the gathering, about how perfect the event was, about how much fun everyone had, about how much it inspired me.
But then I saw the look on her face.
It wasn't inspired. It was a look of distaste, as if I had said something disgusting and embarrassing. The look spoke volumes. It said, "How could long-time students of Rama ever lower themselves to get married."
I was so shocked that I stopped speaking and just sat there for a minute before changing the subject to something less threatening. I forgot about it, and we had a great time the rest of the day, but this morning the song playing on my stereo and my reaction to it have brought the moment back to me and I have to deal with it.
It's not that I cannot understand her reaction. Let's face it, Rama did not have the most positive view of marriage. As his students, we were taught to see, and among the things we turned that seeing on were the many ways in which relationships and marriage can be a drain on one's mental, physical and spiritual energies. These insights are all true. I can understand how many of his long-time students still view the pursuit of love and marriage as antithetical to the spiritual path. But the intensity of my friend's reaction was so at odds with my experience at my other friends' wedding party that I just have to get to the bottom of it. So I get up and walk into the house and set the CD player on REPEAT, then go back outside to sit in the sun and listen to the song over and over. It lifts me on a wave of bliss and floats me back to the moment that so touched me last weekend.
The wedding party took place at my friends' home in the mountains. The house is beautiful, feng shui'd to perfection - home as artform. But this comes as no surprise to those who know them, because they tend to live their entire lives as artform. No bullshit Buddhists here. As someone said so perfectly after the wedding party, "If there was a book somewhere that had a picture of what Rama students look like, the photo should be of you guys."
So of course the wedding party was perfect. Perfect flowers, perfect food and drink, perfect local DJ playing just the perfect music. And as far I could tell, all of the guests appreciated all this perfection, because on many levels they were the perfect guests. Even if you have never been married and have no intention of ever having a wedding of your own, think for a moment - theoretically - about that issue. Who would you invite?
Come up with your personal list of friends and family and business associates and others. Now go through the list, scanning for the ones you know would never get the possibility that two people on a spiritual path would wish to share more than just a path. Reduce it further to the ones you love, the ones whose friendship and character you are sure enough of to invite them to your celebration without fearing that they might try to ruin it. The list shrunk a bit, didn't it? Now, to finish it off, look over the list and marvel at how different the remaining people are, how they are from such different worlds, but also how they all somehow deserve to meet and party down together. Well, my friends must have gone through such a process. The gathering was basically perfect - old friends chatting with old friends, but also meeting new ones.
And although the entire afternoon and evening were wonderful, for me there was a moment at the end that was more perfect than the others. The dancing and partying and laughter had settled down somewhat, and my friends, the artists who created this lovely celebration, found a moment free from their role as hosts and moved out on to the dance floor to share a private celebration of their own. The DJ put on one last song. It started with a few simple guitar strums and a simple bass line, and then a voice that has been accurately described by critics as an international treasure began to sing, ever so softly:
And as the music plays and my friends dance, the room turns fuckin' golden and we all sail with them into the mystic.
Their dance is magical, and manages in its simple elegance to convey a spiritual teaching that the friend visiting Santa Fe doesn't seem to have gotten in all of her years of pursuing spirituality. The icky stuff that Rama showed us about relationships and marriage is true, but it's only part of the picture. That's just the surface. There is a deeper aspect of relationships and of marriage, and it is the same aspect he tried to show us about everything we studied.
It is called Tantra. It is the realization that there is nothing in life - no energy, no activity, no lifestyle - that cannot further our spiritual progress, if we are just weird enough and brave enough to dance to it.
Watching my friends, I realize that they learned this simple lesson, and dance it well. They swirl together in a dazzle of light, holding each other tightly, laughing. The two laughs - each so perfect on its own - somehow meld into a sound that is even more perfect together, just as Van sings:
I stood against the wall, moved to tears at the sight and transported to a new state of attention by my friends' joyous dance. It was a high moment, easily as high as any of the ones I experienced with Rama. I think he would have liked it.
The majesty of Rama's teaching, after all, was not to close us off to experience but to open us to the dance, to teach us that there is nothing to fear in embracing life, or in embracing each other. My friends got that teaching, and had the grace to share it with us.
The party, the setting, the dance - they are all High Art, as surely as Rama's teaching was High Art. Teachers are, after all, artists, and vice versa. They do what they do to show us that every moment of the past has been a preparation for Now, and that by embracing Now fully, we can create an artwork of our own. My friends' dance is a celebration not only of their love, but of love itself, of the fearless pursuit of challenge that can turn each day into a Dance Of Light.
As the song ends, and their real dance into the mystic begins, my friends look around and smile at the perfection of the room, the perfection of the guests, the perfection of the moment they have created. I smile with them, and laugh through my tears and applaud and try to think of what I can say to thank them adequately. But then I realize that I know this song well, and know how it ends, so I allow Van to have the last words, words I know they can identify with:
Too late to stop now.
Too late to stop now.